Meet Heather Benning

After I returned from my virtual vacation “visiting” Wendy Houses, I was wandering the Web and found myself way out on the desolate, windy plains of Manitoba—off the beaten path by miles, I know—where I discovered a delightful domicile designed for all of us who have entertained dollhouse dreams long past the days of youth …


Photo courtesy of

And, yes, doll face, it was scaled for grown-up girls like you and me!

The dollhouse was the brainchild of Canadian artist Heather Benning, who spotted the ramshackle residence in 2005 while completing an artist-in-residence program in Redvers, Saskatchewan. Rather than photograph the abandoned farmhouse, capturing the sunlight on its aged timbers the way many an artist would, Heather was struck by an entirely different inspiration.


Photo of the dollhouse prior to restoration courtesy of

She tracked down the owners of the property, who told her that the house had been empty since the late 1960s and was in pretty sad shape. After hearing her proposal, though, the owners donated the house to Heather so she could doll it up for a unique artistic exhibition.

“For over 18 months, I re-shingled the roof with recycled shingles and restored and furnished the house to the era the house was abandoned,” Heather explains. “I then removed the north-facing wall and replaced it with plexiglass. The house was officially opened to the public on June 9, 2007.”


Dollhouse photos courtesy of

“I chose to close the house in with plexiglass because I wanted it to be inaccessible and tomb-like—inaccessible in that one cannot enter a real dollhouse because of the scale, and tomb-like because it encapsulates a time and a lifestyle that no longer exists, and will never exist again,” she said.

Heather furnished the interior with items collected locally from community member donations, garage sales, auctions, and thrift stores.

Alas, we can’t hope to make a pilgrimage to the house in person because it no longer exists …

“In October of 2012, the house began to show its age—the foundation was compromised,” Heather says on her website. “The house was only meant to stand as long as it remained safe. In March of 2013, ‘The Dollhouse’ met it’s death with fire.”


Dollhouse photos courtesy of

Sigh … ashes to ashes, dollhouse to dust.


Dollhouse photos courtesy of

Doesn’t it make you want to round up the little Janes in your life and design a dwelling for dolls? Even if we can’t live it it, we can always dream!

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    In my mind, you have the perfect house on your farm. The little store you had in Moscow and moved to your farm reminds me of a perfect big girl doll house with it’s gingerbread trim and bright color scheme. I love that place and it would make a really cool “doll house” out on the prairie that one could actually stay in. What plans do you have for that building? I always wanted to know after you moved it. It looked so charming in your photos and I wish I could have visited when it was still open.

    • MaryJane says:

      We were discussing that just last week when we had our local electrical co-op out to map out how to get power to it. I’d like to turn it into a little tiny house for guests. Other ideas were a dairy museum, a classroom, and of course a store again. What do you think?

      • Winnie Nielsen says:

        Gosh, Mary Jane, how interesting that just last week, you were talking about how to get power to the place! All of your ideas sound plausible but of course, my favorite would be a store because then it would be a place people like me could come, shop and visit. A guest house would limit who could really see it and enjoy it. What about a store for your dairy products that could have a space for learning about dairy farming? A place where 5-6 people could attend a workshop day or series after hours and a store that sells your cheeses and other cow related gifts like your books? Organic dairy farming with mini Jerseys could be a useful local training site for young people who are interested but need to know how to start and what is involved. Something like training along your PayDirt school concept? Or, a Saturday workshop with guest lecturer from the Animal Science dept at the Univ. of Idaho in Moscow? I love the idea of promoting sustainable dairy farming for small farms and also hand crafted cheese for selling. It seems that the national Farm to Table movement is providing energy and opportunity for young farmers to have organic products that restaurants can offer. More and more people are looking for quality food options and chefs are looking for a way to make their new restaurants unique and fresh. Mmmmm, I am dreaming of a small local restaurant that features lots of dishes made with local handcrafted cheeses with a side salad of organic greens from another farmer’s CSA. Maybe that is already happening out your way? Oh, how about this idea that just popped in my mind? So, you open the store as described above with a Farm to Table dinner for 50 people using your cheeses as one of the main ingredients in the appetizer, entree and dessert . A fabulous pasta course and one of
        Ashley’s cheesecakes! You include a few friends who are either dairy farmers like yourself OR faculty from the University or your personal veterinarian services to also be in attendance on the guest list. That way, the others will be able to network with professional resources at the dinner. Of course, you will then have a big poster board and flyers about your upcoming workshop courses and registrations. My imagination is running wild here as you can see! I do love that little house and it would be fun to give it a new lease on life with a new purpose. What could be more meaningful that housing learning with organic dairy production? Can I be on the guest list???

        • MaryJane says:

          I’m on it! Love your ideas Winnie. Our bigger plan all along has been the installation of a commercial kitchen in our still-getting-finished facility. Dinners? Brunches? Help me keep these things in my mind’s eye. That’s how it comes to fruition, right? And yes, Pay Dirt Farm School classes are on our agenda also, specifically teaching classes about backyard cows. I love your ECETERAS. Keep ’em coming! That’s one of your many unique talents.

          • Winnie Nielsen says:

            Wow, sounds like there are many pieces already in the overall queue that would make this idea sustainable and profitable! I love brainstorming because it energizes me and the collaboration is uplifting. Nothing like a good project to sink your teeth into. There is so much reward in seeing ideas come to fruition and then taking on a life of their own. I would love to be a part of those idea keepers for you. Together, all of us will help you sort out what makes sense. It is like each of us has a little binder of ideas and as you plan and drill down to what you and your team want to do, we can be your reference library to tap into as needed. Sign me up!

  2. Karlyne says:

    I’m curious; did they torch the house on purpose or did it catch fire?
    I think your little house would make an amazing tea party house, by the way!

    • MaryJane says:

      I wondered about that myself but couldn’t find out, leading me to think they did it.

      I hadn’t thought of a tea party house. Great idea! Our only drawback is the fact that getting electricity to it where we put it will cost around 10 grand. Ouch. Might be awhile before we can pull that off:) It’s just so cute sitting out here at the farm, all colorful and happy.

      • Karlyne says:

        Solar powered? Windmill? Or just a daylight party house? Wood stove for boiling the tea water and baking the scones? Or propane? I obviously want to come for tea!

  3. Karlyne says:

    Well, sign me up for Winnie’s Brain Trust, and I guarantee I’ll be smiling!

  4. Debbie says:

    Oh, I’m so happy I stopped by for this post and all this wonderful farmgirl brain-power happening here! I have a ” thing ” for small little buildings. At the moment I’m obsessed with Shepherds Huts! Can I play too? I too would love to see your old shop turned into a ” little House on the farm ” … be re-invented with a new purpose… Maybe several? You could even name it after one of your beloved cows. The Etta Jane House, The Cottage Dairy, Moo House Dairy, or I know you could call it the Doll House Dairy! I Love the ideas for a lil’ dairy shop, schoolroom, and of course I’m all on board for it being solar powered with a cute little gas to take the chill off on cold fall days and a some solar power for lights and running a water pump to the dairy kitchen/classroom..Our cottage is only 460 square feet and my brother in law installed our solar several years ago… Do you need a reference for solar power products for small buildings? I could ask him for you! You could even have a little ” out house” or get a composting toilet for an inside bathroom…You could decorate it with the colors inspired by your Milk Cow Kitchen Book! Red/White/Cream and Jersey Cow Brown! What fun MJ!!! So excited about this! 🙂 Can’t wait to see how it all comes together… and it will!

  5. Super ideas fellow farmgirls! Around her in Amishland, its always propane for energy then solar, no need for those electric wires. They make tons of super propane appliances for the ” Amish market”, and by good names like Amana. Just plant some lilacs or pretty shrubs around the propane tank, that’s what they do here.
    I am enamored of the idea of a “cheesy ” restaurant cum Pay Dirt Farm School with talks/lectures and so forth re: cows. And the idea of a farm-to-table banquet to start it off is super. Artisanal cheeses are huge around here both with the ” Plain People” and small farmers.
    Keep those creative juices coming ( oh did i say juice? I meant milk – milk it with all your imagination )

    • MaryJane says:

      I’d like to do a sequel cow book with just artisan cheeses. Making a batch of Parm as we speak. Keep your cheesy ideas coming!

  6. Some names for your future restaurant:
    Beaumont’s Bovine Bistro
    Rose Etta’s Eatery
    Rose Etta’s Eat In Cafe
    Daisy’s Dining Delish
    Eliza Belle’s Belle Epoque ( or Elegant ) Tearoom

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